Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of cancer that usually develops in your voluntary muscles and belongs to a broad category of tumors called soft tissue sarcomas. RMS can grow anywhere in your body, even in areas that do not normally have voluntary muscles but generally occurs in your head or neck, abdomen or one of your extremities.

A Few Interesting Facts…

  • RMS is the most common soft tissue sarcoma in kids.
  • Approximately 250 children in the United States are diagnosed with RMS each year.
  • RMS is more prevalent in boys than girls and occurs less frequently in African Americans and Asians than Caucasians.
  • About 60-70% of patients are less than 10 years of age at diagnosis but the second most common age is early to mid-adolescence.

There are different types of RMS:


These types generally develop in your eyes or genitourinary system (your sex organs or urinary tract organs).


These are more likely to be found in your extremities or the trunk of your body. They are also most often seen in older patients.

Undifferentiated sarcomas or soft tissue sarcomas

These cannot be traced to a specific cell of origin, but are frequently treated like RMS.

What Does Staging Mean?

Once rhabdomyosarcoma is diagnosed, more tests will be done to find out if the cancer cells have spread to other parts of your body. This is called staging. RMS is staged according to its location in your body, the size of your primary tumor, and whether or not the disease has spread to your lymph nodes or other distant areas of your body. Staging also takes into account whether or not your tumor can be removed completely with surgery. Your doctor needs to know the stage of your disease to plan the best treatment for you.

Stage I Cancer is found in your eye, head and/or neck, or near your sex organs and bladder. Your tumor can be completely removed with surgery.

Stage II Cancer is located in only 1 area (other than the areas in Stage 1), is smaller than 2 inches (5 cm), and has not spread to your lymph nodes. Your tumor can be completely removed with surgery, but there is evidence of microscopic disease at the edges of your removed tumor. Some of your lymph nodes near your tumor also have disease.

Stage III Cancer is located in only 1 area (other than the areas in Stage 1), is bigger than 2 inches (5 cm) in size, and may have spread to the lymph nodes found near the cancer. Your tumor cannot be completely removed with surgery and you may have some residual tumor.

Stage IV Cancer has spread and is found in more than 1 place at the time of diagnosis.

What Happens Next?

You will be treated with chemotherapy and, most likely, radiation therapy. The specific medications you will receive depend on which type of RMS you have and the extent of your disease. If your RMS has spread beyond its primary site or recurs following usual therapy, you may be treated with high dose chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant.

The Good News…

Many teens with your type of cancer are cured and live long, normal lives. Like many cancers, your prognosis for survival depends on the type and stage of your disease. The overall survival rate at five years from diagnosis is about 65%, though if your RMS is located around your eye or in your genitourinary tract (with the exception of your bladder or prostate) then your rate is about 80%. Recurrences after five years are rare.